FAA to keep tight grip on airspace at Hunter Thompson’s memorial | PostIndependent.com

FAA to keep tight grip on airspace at Hunter Thompson’s memorial

The paparazzi will apparently have to be more creative than simply hiring a helicopter to buzz over Hunter Thompson’s memorial service today.

The Federal Aviation Administration claims it will keep tight control on aircraft flying over the famed writer’s Woody Creek property.

No special restrictions will be in place, but the ranch is within the controlled airspace overseen by the tower at the Aspen airport, according to FAA spokesman Mike Fergus of the Northwest Mountain Region in Renton, Wash. Thompson’s property is about three miles from the airport. Controlled airspace is within a five-mile radius of the airport.

Fergus contacted the Aspen control tower Friday and reported officials there were well aware of the Thompson memorial ” and the potential for paparazzi to be flying over for photos.

The memorial is limited to a few hundred invited guests. Media access is being tightly controlled.

Private aircraft won’t be prevented from flying past the property, but Fergus said air traffic controllers reported it would be difficult if not impossible for helicopters to hover above the party. So many aircraft are coming and going that a helicopter wouldn’t have a chance to hang there, Fergus said.

“(The air traffic controller) said nine chances out of 10 we’re not going to let that happen,” Fergus said. “Loitering is what they’re not going to allow.”

But rules are made to be broken, as Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith discovered at their June 26, 1989, wedding in Woody Creek, just a mile or so from Thompson’s house. A helicopter flying a photographer for a tabloid magazine hovered over the property, which is also within the airport’s controlled airspace.

Johnson’s ranch manager allegedly took matters into his own hands by firing a shotgun toward the helicopter. No one was injured and no property was damaged. The Pitkin County Sheriff’s Office investigated the incident but didn’t file any charges.

Fergus said pilots are supposed to make radio contact with the Aspen tower when entering the controlled airspace. They must follow directions from air traffic controllers or risk civil penalties that could range from a warning to revocation of a license.

Pitkin County Airport Manager Jim Elwood said the production company preparing Thompson’s memorial was concerned about aircraft flying over the property from a safety perspective. He said the memorial organizers preferred to see temporary flight restrictions.

Pitkin County wanted to minimize effects on commercial and general aviation flights, so Elwood didn’t request the restrictions. He said he placed the production company in contact with the FAA.

Fergus said he found no indication of any restrictions planned for Saturday. “It wouldn’t be necessary if it was within controlled airspace,” he said.

The question remains, can anyone really control the paparazzi?

There was no official word Friday on whether Jimmy Ibbotson would man anti-aircraft batteries around Thompson’s home. Ibbotson, a Thompson neighbor, chased a photographer off his property this week and emphasized his displeasure by firing a shotgun blast into the ground.

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